Saturday, December 4, 2010

I surrender a lot, but slowly and under duress...

When I started this motherhood gig, I was thrilled to begin this fulfilling, rewarding part of life.  There was this underlying assumption that it would be an amazing addition, like a favorite sweater you wear most of the day but can set aside at will when it gets uncomfortable. I didn't understand that it would change my life.  That it would be less in my control than I thought - more like skin than a sweater.

My first whispered hint that motherhood might be more than a life accessory came just a few weeks into my first pregnancy.  As I watched my sister-in-law with her newborn, I noticed that it was more time-consuming and invasive than I had imagined.  I couldn't have put it in so many words at the time.  It was more of a vague sense of uneasiness.

Because we lost that first sweet baby and the next, bringing home David was more of a stress-reliever than a reality check in terms of the demands of motherhood.  It wasn't until we brought Jacob home* that the realities of motherhood began to hit for me.  It felt like I was always on.  Someone needed me all the time.  I couldn't go to the doctor, get my haircut, work, ... without making arrangements that seemed more complex than arranging a U.N. summit.  It was hard to not have the freedom to just decide to do something and do it.  It made me feel like a sub-person.  Jacob was around 6 months old when I was struck in that clear and foreign way that I recognize as the leading of God - I was living for the times that they slept.  During my time with them, I was just running out the clock. Not that I never enjoyed them but that my posture was one of getting done.  Away from them, I could really be me and do important and enjoyable things.  That first surrender was to just be where I am - to enjoy the time with them, be present and stop fighting it.  To really accept that my life is different now and my time is no longer my own.

About 5 minutes after my post-Jacob epiphany, I got pregnant with Bryan.  Rand came a few years later and this first year of his life has been fraught with surrender.  Some of it has been spiritual.  I have long had angst about whether I really live out my faith.  "Shouldn't I be doing more for God?  How can I possibly be honoring God living as a comfortable suburban stay-at-home mom?  Surely I have to run some sort of ministry to be pleasing to God."  This is followed quickly by, "Holy crap.  How in the world am I going to do that.  I can't do the things I'm already obligated to do."  The response I got to that "God what do you want me to do?  What do you want me to do?  What do you want me to do???" was "You come to Me like I'm demanding."  It was what my pastor calls a thought bomb - a voice in your head that you know is not you.  It was the beginning of a shift for me.  What if what God wants is me and not the awesome stuff I can do?

Part of what has come out of it is a new way of looking at motherhood.  It's not something that interferes with my ability to serve God faithfully.  I'm called to live my current life in a way that honors God - in the way Jesus would had he been me.  Not someone else's life but mine.  My circumstances don't have to change first.  That's actually a very subtle and powerful lie.  So now I'm trying to transfer my emotional energy and thought life from angst and discontent to embracing and pouring myself into my current role - wife to Chris and mother to the brothers h.  And the thing is, God has sent meaningful opportunities apart from the household h - more I think than were there when I was devoting a lot of my waking hours to worrying about it.  So, the spiritual surrender has been to embrace wife and motherhood as a spiritual calling - an area where I can be pleasing to God.  Accepting that while it's not the only spiritual service for me right now, it's the main thing.

The next big surrender has been vocational.  I have had an awesome part time work situation since David was a baby.  I didn't realize how important the work was to my self-image and security until I had to give it up.  The decision wasn't hard and wasn't the place of surrender, but the aftermath has been unsettling.  It's hard to embrace a role of service in a culture that places such emphasis on material compensation and upward mobility and equates service with inferiority.  The surrender has been more in embracing the actual work I do every day as important and worthwhile alongside releasing the need to know what will come next for me or that if I do a good job, these guys will turn out the way I pray they will.  I want to find a place of doing motherhood with excellence but without demandingness.

Figuring out the territory to surrender, permanently or not, and the territory to defend is tough, and just as holding more territory than you can defend has dangers, surrender is dangerous - anger at what you've had to do, an expectation that you're owed something in return or giving up ground that you should defend.  Right now some of the "me territory" I'm defending is time alone, time for meaningful reading and learning to play the guitar.  So I'm praying for wisdom in determining the right ground to surrender and for an attitude not of earning but of God-honoring effort seasoned with grace.

Fourteen years ago, I had a detailed and controlled plan.  We would have two kids, 18 months apart.  I would take 2-3 years off work, then back to a fulfilling and rewarding career as a tenure-track professor at a research institution.  The reality of motherhood has been a wilder ride - more heart wrenching, unpredictable, demanding, gross**, laughter-inducing and thoroughly out of my control than I envisioned.  It's nearly torn my heart out in places, but it's a good work - worth the best of me.

 I can't end this little sketch without a word of thanks to...
...Chris who respects my need to go off by myself sometimes and talks me off the ledge. parents and in-laws for taking over the parenting duties for us now and then.  I want to be like you for my kids someday.
...Amy who prays for me.
...My church ladies further down the mothering road who speak life-giving words about the importance and fleeting nature of this stage.
...George MacDonald for his writings on the dignity of God-honoring service.
...Dallas Willard for his writings on what it looks like to live as a disciple of Jesus.
...God who has been open-handed with me in the matter of babies. 
*Jacob was our easiest baby.  It was just the newborn/toddler combination that got me. 
**I have had to stick my hand in some nasty stuff.


  1. Princess: from our Parent/grandparent perspective, we are frequently amazed that both you and Karen not only retain sanity, but also seem to for the most part experience and enjoy your large broods. Angela, sorry, but having two little girls makes you the TCU of this group. Papa

  2. Beautiful wisdom. Perhaps the struggle, or at least my struggle, would become less so if surrender was to be be viewed in the way you describe. Not as a defeat, but to relinquish the power we think we have to the One who actually has it....


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